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Judicial attempts to undermine August presidential election result continued to fuel political instability; more moves against President-elect could fuel mass protests and unrest in coming weeks.
Judicial persecution threatened to cause further turmoil. In moves that could spark further unrest, Public Prosecutor’s Office 16 Nov opened investigation into President-elect Arévalo, VP-elect Karin Herrera and four other politicians for allegedly promoting May 2022-June 2023 student protest; judiciary accused them of destruction of cultural property, illicit association and influence peddling, and asked Supreme Court to remove their immunity; fears rose that removal of immunity or arrest of President-elect in December would lead to mass protests. Earlier, Supreme Electoral Court 2 Nov confirmed suspension of Arévalo’s party Movimiento Semilla over alleged anomalies during its creation; original suspension issued in July but only became legal after electoral period ended 31 Oct. Public Prosecutor’s Office 22 Nov levelled same charges against two other politicians. Arévalo and Herrera 16 Nov said charges were “spurious” and an “assault on democracy”. Prosecutor’s office also issued arrest warrants for 27 other individuals for their role in university protest.
Congress appointed Supreme Court judges. Constitutional Court 7 Nov ordered Congress to elect magistrates for Supreme Court of Justice and Court of Appeals before end of Nov, reinvigorating process on pause since 2019. Congress 15 Nov elected thirteen magistrates to Supreme Court of Justice, some of whom have been accused of corruption, triggering protests in capital Guatemala City; 21 Nov appointed Appeal Court magistrates.
International and domestic actors reiterated support for Arévalo. Indigenous leaders and private sector actors 1 Nov signed “Action for Democracy” charter with Arévalo, which reiterated support for election result, and pledged to defend and strengthen democratic institutions. Meanwhile, twenty countries from Organization of American States Permanent Council 15 Nov voted that Prosecutor’s Office sought to undermine democracy, while U.S. and EU continued to threaten sanctions. EU electoral observation mission 13 Nov presented final report which found no fraud in vote and concluded results were legitimate.
Violence against protesters opposing electoral interference after Bernardo Arévalo’s surprise victory left one dead.
Protests against judicial interference in electoral transition paralysed country. Amid continued efforts by Attorney General Consuelo Porras and Public Prosecutor’s Office to derail electoral transition, indigenous leaders, civil society and student organisations 2 Oct began protesting, establishing roadblocks throughout country and calling for resignation of Porras and other judicial officials; indigenous leaders called for nationwide strike. Blockages led to food and fuel shortages. Porras 9 Oct urged govt to act against “illegal” demonstrations and to clear roadblocks using force if necessary, while outgoing President Giammattei same day suggested protest leaders were receiving foreign funding. Riot police next day began clearing roadblocks and using tear gas. Interior Minister Napoleón Barrientos 16 Oct resigned after Porras requested his dismissal for not forcefully dispersing protests.
Unrest left one dead. In first casualty since protests began, unidentified gunmen 16 Oct killed one person and wounded two other protestors in Malacatan town, San Marcos department (west); videos on social media same day showed machete-carrying assailants attacking protesters in El Asintal township, Retalhuleu municipality (south west), allegedly in concert with police; Arévalo condemned violence.
International community reiterated its support for Arévalo. Arévalo 4 Oct restarted transition process, next day asked govt and demonstrators to engage in dialogue. Meanwhile, U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 2 Oct called for “peaceful political transition”, and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan 3 Oct promised to ensure accountability for “those who are trying to suffocate democracy”. Organization of American States head Luis Almagro 10 Oct described election interference as “shameful”. U.S. official 24 Oct said Washington could apply sectoral sanctions to “support democratic process”. U.S. and EU same day issued joint statement, expressing concern about “flagrant attempts to undermine” elections.
Judicial efforts to hinder transition process after Bernardo Arévalo’s surprise electoral victory continued, eliciting domestic and international condemnation.
Judicial attacks on Arévalo, his party and electoral authorities persisted. Following electoral victory of Bernardo Arévalo and his centre-left Semilla Movement in Aug, judicial efforts to derail transition continued, led by Attorney General Consuelo Porras, head of Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity Rafael Curruchiche, and Judge Fredy Orellana. Notably, Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), who late Aug confirmed Arévalo’s victory and has since sought to advance transition, 1 Sept said Public Prosecutor’s Office had opened four different investigations against them. TSE 3 Sept announced it had temporarily revoked suspension order issued by Judge Orellana late Aug against Semilla. Judicial authorities 12-13 Sept and 29 Sept raided electoral centre. Video 13 Sept surfaced showing prosecutors opening boxes containing votes and counting ballots during raids; Arévalo accused Attorney General’s office of plotting against him, while Curruchiche claimed boxes were opened as part of investigation into accusation Semilla falsified signatures for legal status.
Civil society denounced judicial persecution. Amid widely held assumption that judiciary is working with powerful political and business figures to prevent Arévalo from taking power, Guatemalans 2 Sept protested in Constitutional Plaza of capital Guatemala City to demand Porras’ and Curruchiche’s resignation. Indigenous groups 18-19 Sept blocked roads and streets in capital, demanding removal of Porras, Curruchiche and Orellana.
International community stepped up pressure to preserve election result. European parliament 14 Sept denounced “repeated attempts to suspend the Semilla movement”, while some deputies proposed provisional suspension of commerce with Guatemala. U.S. official same day said Washington could impose sanctions and reduce aid to country unless election result is respected.
Despite judicial and other interference, presidential election went ahead, resulting in landslide victory for centre-left candidate Bernardo Arévalo; President Giammattei endorsed result.
Surprise candidate won presidential election. Bernardo Arévalo of centre-left Movimiento Semilla won landslide victory in presidential runoff on 20 Aug, securing 60.9% of vote compared with 37.2% for Sandra Torres of right-wing Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza; Arévalo, who takes office on 14 Jan, promised to fight corruption after victory. President Giammattei 21 Aug congratulated Arévalo, inviting him to launch transition. Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) 28 Aug confirmed result.
Attempts to undermine Arévalo and his party persisted. Torres, who had not conceded by end of month, repeatedly claimed election may be stolen and 18 Aug alleged fraud in first round; hours later, director of Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (accused of corruption) echoed Torres’ accusations, implying possible international interference and claiming advances in investigations into Semilla party. TSE 18 Aug criticised comments so close to second-round vote, but 28 Aug provisionally suspended Semilla after Judge Orellana, at request of Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity, issued order. Organization of American States (OAS) 28 Aug called decision an “abusive interpretation of the law”. Ruling unlikely to affect Arévalo but for now leaves him without party.
International community kept close eye on proceedings. Amid concern about efforts to alter electoral process, external actors including U.S., OAS and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called for transparent elections with no interference. OAS 10 Aug extended observation mission until Jan transition upon request from outgoing president and others. OAS 24 Aug asked govt to provide Arévalo and running mate Karin Herrera with protection amid death threats.
Judicial and other interference in presidential poll sparked political crisis and protests in capital, as external actors decried efforts to alter electoral process.
Electoral turmoil erupted following first round of presidential vote. After surprise June election result, in which voters selected Bernardo Arévalo of centre-left Movimiento Semilla to take on front runner Sandra Torres of right-wing Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza party in Aug runoff, Constitutional Court (CC) 1 July suspended release of official results after several political parties, including ruling Vamos, claimed vote count was fraudulent. Recount concluded 6 July with minimal variation and Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) 12 July confirmed candidacy of Torres and Arévalo in presidential runoff; Public Prosecutor’s Office (which is accused of corruption and acting in incumbent president’s interest) next day raided TSE’s Registry of Citizens office amid escalating tensions between the two.
Attempt to block Arévalo’s candidacy deepened crisis. Shortly before TSE certified results, a judge (at behest of Attorney General’s Office) 12 July suspended legal status of Movimiento Semilla over alleged irregularities in how party was created; legal experts claimed electoral law establishes that no party can be banned during electoral process. CC 13 July suspended decision to disqualify Movimiento Semilla, allowing Arévalo’s candidacy in runoff, but Public Prosecutor’s office continued investigations into party. Police 21 July raided Movimiento Semilla’s headquarters amid widespread domestic and international criticism. Arévalo 30 July denounced “campaign of fear”.
Efforts to reverse result sparked protests and international condemnation. Hundreds demonstrated throughout month, predominantly in capital, against efforts to change election results. External actors also criticised efforts to alter electoral process: notably, European Union 13 July said it was “deeply concerned by the continuing efforts to tamper with these election results”; Organization of American States’ observation mission 19 July said some parties and actors had abused “legal instruments” and put “country’s democratic stability” at risk; UN Sec-Gen 22 July urged authorities to “guarantee free expression of the will of electors”; and U.S. 24 July said “we are deeply concerned by ongoing efforts to interfere with the elections in Guatemala”.
In polls marred by controversy over banned candidates and violence, voters sent surprise contestant from centre-left and early frontrunner into August presidential runoff.
Tensions ran high in lead up to polls that produced no clear winner. Guatemalans 25 June cast ballots to choose new president and vice president, as well as 160 congressional deputies and hundreds of local mayors. In surprise presidential result, centre-left Bernardo Arévalo finished second with 12% of vote; he will face frontrunner Sandra Torres of Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza party, who won 15% of vote, in 20 Aug runoff. Tensions ran high ahead of elections amid widespread perception that political and business elites manipulated judicial system to bar politicians who could threaten their interests from running for office; judicial authorities prevented more than 1,200 candidates for president, vice president, mayor and congress from running. EU election monitoring mission 25 June said elections took place amid “serious deterioration of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, together with severe restrictions on freedoms of expression and of the press”.
Election-related violence spiked. Cabal Party presidential candidate Edmond Mulet 14 June said shooting took place at party headquarters in El Tejar town, Chimaltenango department (centre), and that six Cabal leaders had been murdered since June 2022. Unidentified gunmen 17 June killed National Unity of Hope party candidate Erlindo Rodriguez Samayoa in Concepción las Minas municipality, Chiquimula department (east). Think-tank Diálogos 21 June reported 15 people involved in election campaigns – including drivers and volunteers – were killed Jan- June 2023, while observer NGO 25 June reported 57 incidents of electoral violence.
Authorities restricted participation of popular candidates in June general elections.
Authorities banned opposition politicians in lead up to key polls. Ahead of 25 June general elections, which include votes for presidency, Congress and local municipalities, court 26 May blocked candidacy of presidential frontrunner Carlos Pineda of Prosperidad Ciudadana party over “administrative issues”. Decision is latest in serious of court rulings banning popular candidates from participating in polls, including Indigenous leader Thelma Cabrera of People’s Liberation Movement and Roberto Arzú of Podemos party, both in Feb. Organization of American States, which in March expressed concern about exclusion of hundreds of candidates, and European Union plan to send election observation missions.
Media space grew more restricted. Independent news outlet elPeriódico, which for 27 years reported on corruption, impunity and trafficking dynamics, 15 May ceased production; NGO Committee to Protect Journalists 15 May said closure was result of govt’s “judicial and financial harassment”. Founding president of publication imprisoned on various charges in case observers say was riddled with irregularities.
Political tensions persisted as authorities appointed controversial figure as new top anti-corruption prosecutor, and anti-govt protests continued, albeit at lower intensity. After thousands in July protested dismissal of Juan Francisco Sandoval as head of Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI), Attorney General Maria Porras 3 Augannounced head of Electoral Crimes Prosecutor’s Office, Rafael Curruchiche, would take over Sandoval immediately criticised appointment, accusing Curruchiche of protecting corrupt individuals; U.S. 5 Aug said move “does not add confidence in [FECI’s] ability to independently investigate and prosecute corruption cases”. Members of farmers and indigenous groups 9 Aug blocked roads across country, calling on President Giammattei and Porras to resign and accusing them of dismantling judicial independence; during renewed protest in capital Guatemala City, police 19 Aug prevented clashes between protesters and dozens of reported shop owners who threatened to dissolve rally with bats. U.S. newspaper The New York Times 24 Aug alleged President Giammattei received bribes from Russian delegation in April in exchange for concessions at Santo Tomás maritime port; Giammattei immediately denied accusations.
Tensions ran high over govt’s handling of COVID-19 pandemic and following dismissal of chief prosecutor against corruption. Amid growing discontent with govt’s handling of COVID-19, particularly in relation to test and vaccine procurement, around 300 protesters 10 July demonstrated in capital Guatemala City demanding resignation of President Giammattei. Giammattei 12 July vowed to crack down on “illegal demonstrations”, accused protesters of “spreading the virus”, and next day issued decree empowering police to break up any protest not complying with health security measures. VP Guillermo Castillo 14 July criticised move, saying govt should “get more vaccines…rather than limiting constitutional rights”. Meanwhile, attorney general 23 July dismissed top anti-corruption prosecutor, Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI) head Juan Francisco Sandoval, accusing him of “abuses”; FECI, which was created to tackle investigations initially spearheaded by UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, disbanded by Guatemalan government in 2019, recently faced several legal challenges seeking to revoke its mandate. Sandoval immediately said he would challenge “illegal dismissal”, 24 July fled to neighbouring El Salvador “to safeguard his life”. Hundreds same day protested Sandoval’s removal outside presidential palace in Guatemala City and reiterated call for Giammattei’s resignation. Following calls for national strike by main indigenous and student groups, thousands 29-30 July marched and blocked highways across country, particularly in Totonicapán department (west). U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 25 July said Sandoval’s dismissal “undermines the rule of law”, and Washington 27 July announced temporary suspension of programmatic cooperation with Attorney General’s Office.
State budget for 2021 sparked unrest; hurricane killed dozens. Congress 18 Nov approved controversial 2021 budget, including substantial reduction in funding of Human Rights Ombudsman and judiciary, as well as several social and health programs. Thousands 21 Nov demonstrated against budget in capital Guatemala City and other cities, with small group of protesters breaking into Congress and setting fire to parts of building; police fired tear gas to disperse protesters, injuring 22 and detaining 37. Protests continued in following days in Guatemala City, prompting Congress speaker to withdraw bill 25 Nov. President Giammattei 22 Nov dismissed protests as coup attempt by minority groups, and govt same day requested Organization of American States (OAS) to help facilitate dialogue between political forces; OAS sent delegation 27 Nov. Some 2,000 people 28 Nov attended further protests in Guatemala City, demanding Giammattei and Congress representatives who approved budget resign. Govt 23-27 Nov arrested 40 members of MS-13 and 18th Street gangs in U.S.-backed anti-organised crime operations throughout country. After hurricane Eta made landfall 3 Nov, and storm Iota caused flooding mid-month, govt’s disaster agency 17-19 Nov reported total of 57 dead, 96 missing and 1.3mn affected.
Allegations of corruption continued to plague current and former govts, while tensions with Honduras rose over migration issues. Opposition legislators 12 Oct reported irregularities in govt’s purchase of emergency food in late Sept, and alleged financial subsidy destined for those most affected by COVID-19 pandemic had been distributed to at least 7,000 dead people since outbreak of pandemic. Special Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity (FECI) 16 Oct seized $16mn in cash in house in Antigua town, near capital Guatemala City, tied to former Communications Minister José Luis Benito Ruiz; Attorney General’s Office 20 Oct issued arrest warrant against Benito, who is fifth minister of former President Morales’ administration being investigated for criminal activities. U.S. Sec State Pompeo 28 Oct announced “public designation” of First Secretary of Congress Felipe Alejos Lorenzana and former Deputy Delia Bac for role in alleged corruption, rendering them ineligible for entry to U.S. Meanwhile, attorney general 7 Oct issued administrative complaints against head of FECI and three FECI prosecutors, accusing them of corruption and money laundering; U.S. state department next day denounced charges, said attorney general must “prosecute the corrupt, not the anti-corruption prosecutors.” As elections of Supreme Court magistrates remained stalled in Congress after Attorney General’s Office in Feb revealed irregularities over selection process, Supreme Court 13 Oct passed ruling allowing current magistrates to stay in office. Police 6 Oct transferred 13 Barrio 18 gang members from Matamoros prison to different jails in attempt to prevent them from organising criminal activity while incarcerated. Tensions increased between Guatemala and Honduras over migration. As caravan of 3,000 Hondurans 1 Oct departed for Guatemala en route to U.S., govt same day declared state of prevention, allowing security forces to detain and deport migrants; authorities 4 Oct claimed around 3,300 migrants were sent back to Honduras, but accused Tegucigalpa of refusing to take back its citizens.
Amid persistent tensions between Congress and judiciary, authorities launched attacks on press. President Giammattei’s ally and head of controversial coordination cell within govt Miguel Martínez 9 Sept filed criminal complaint against Plaza Pública newspaper for threats, harassment and extortion, after it reported same day that Martínez and Giammattei are business partners. Public Ministry 12 Sept opened investigation after police officers previous day reportedly beat and arrested Vox Populi journalist Sonny Figueroa shortly after he published article criticising Martínez’s role in govt. Authorities 22 Sept arrested journalist Anastasia Mejía in Joyabaj municipality, Quiché department, on sedition charges; NGO Committee to Protect Journalists 28 Sept called for immediate release of Mejía and for govt to “guarantee that journalists can report freely without persecution”. NGO Human Rights Watch 9 Sept called on judiciary and Congress to “end their relentless attacks” on human rights ombudsman Jordán Rodas for “his defence of sexual and reproductive rights”. Election of Supreme Court and appeal courts magistrates remained stalled in Congress after Attorney General’s office in Feb revealed irregularities in selection process; Congress leaders 9 Sept created working group on issue. Following Aug murders of NGO worker and land defender, NGO International Land Coalition 9 Sept expressed concern over violations of rights of members of indigenous and peasant organisations. Prison inmates in Guatemala City 3 Sept took four guards hostage in response to govt transferring Barrio 18 gang leaders to different prisons in attempt to curb extortion orders; inmates released guards next day. Health Ministry 8 Sept recorded 21,000 cases of acute malnutrition.
Govt’s management of COVID-19 crisis continued to come under scrutiny amid tensions between Congress and judiciary. In address to Congress 3 Aug, first party in Congress Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza said govt has only distributed 3.5% of food rations earmarked in emergency funds approved to address COVID-19. Indigenous and civil society groups stepped up criticism of govt and lawmakers over management of pandemic; over 20 organisations in Quetzaltenango department 9 Aug declared five of their Congress representatives as persona non grata, and several organisations in Chiquimula department 11 Aug did the same for their three representatives. Maya, Xinca and Garifuna indigenous authorities 14 Aug demanded resignations of heads of executive, judicial, and legislative branches, citing their alleged inability to serve citizens. Hundreds 15 and 22 Aug gathered in capital Guatemala City to protest govt’s management of pandemic. Concerns over slow response grew further after media 17 Aug reported four out of 14 COVID-19 relief programs have yet to distribute money despite being approved five months ago. Congress continued to delay elections of Supreme Court and appeal courts magistrates after Attorney General’s office in Feb revealed irregularities in selection process of magistrates; Attorney General 7 Aug requested that immunity of 92 Congress members and several Supreme Court and Constitutional Court members be lifted for allegedly thwarting election process. Armed assailants 11 Aug killed French NGO worker in San Antonio Ilotenango municipality, El Quiché department (north east). Govt 16 Aug renewed for 15 days state of emergency imposed late July in five municipalities in Izabal (east) and Alta Verapaz departments over reported presence of criminal groups there.
Under pressure for alleged corruption in handling of COVID-19, govt created new anti-graft body, while insecurity persisted. Following June removal of health minister and other ministry officials for mismanagement of COVID-19 response, including allegations of corruption, govt 9 July created Anti-corruption Secretariat. President Giammattei’s cabinet same day went into quarantine after minister tested positive for virus, amid reports pandemic had stretched health care facilities to their limits. Govt 27 July introduced ‘‘traffic light’’ alert system, allowing local authorities to impose different levels of restrictions depending on contagion numbers. Following Congress and Supreme Court’s late June attempt to lift immunity of Constitutional Court magistrates, Constitutional Court 25 July ruled to defend its members’ immunity; move came after series of Constitutional Court rulings on alleged irregularities in selection process of judges to Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. Meanwhile, insecurity continued. Unidentified gunmen 14 July injured new mayor of Teculután town, Zacapa department (east), whose predecessor was murdered in May. Govt 27 July imposed 15-day state of emergency in five municipalities in departments of Izabal (east) and Alta Verapaz (north), alleging presence of criminal groups there; peasant (campesino) movement had rejected govt move to impose 30-day state of emergency in same municipalities 19 July saying it would militarise area and restrict rights; in statement published 21 July, 125 national and international rights groups supported peasants’ complaint. Tensions with U.S. remained high over continued deportation flights amid COVID-19 pandemic; health ministry 7 July reported 216 returned migrants had tested positive since outbreak started.
President Giammattei dismissed health minister over allegations of mismanagement of COVID-19 crisis, while tensions with U.S. persisted over deportation of migrants. Giammattei 19 June replaced health minister and three other Ministry officials; move followed investigation by Presidential Commission against Corruption into Ministry’s alleged mismanagement of COVID-19 pandemic, including creation of ghost jobs – salaries collected without work being performed – and hiring of unqualified people, and newspaper Prensa Libre’s 6 June accusation that Ministry had manipulated numbers of reported COVID-19 infections and deaths. Meanwhile, police reported they had arrested 24,800 people for violating COVID-19 lockdown 22 March-13 June. Amid concerns over potential spread of virus in overcrowded prisons, director of prison system 16 June said eight prisoners had died from COVID-19. Police 2 June reported improving security with 978 homicides Jan-May 2020, compared to 1,515 in same period last year. Criminal violence and local conflicts however continued. Notably, alleged smugglers 4 June set up roadblocks and attacked police precinct in San Marcos city (west). Violence also persisted in Sololá department (south), where govt imposed state of emergency in three municipalities late May following deadly clashes over longstanding territorial dispute; after renewed clashes there 11 June left two dead, govt 25 June extended state of emergency for 30 days. Tensions with U.S. remained high over continued deportation flights amid COVID-19 pandemic and despite broader restrictions on international flights. U.S. under-secretary of state 5 June stated flights would continue; authorities reported 159 deportations 1-15 June; govt 23 June reported six new deportees tested positive for COVID-19.
Govt continued to face allegations of corruption in handling of COVID-19 crisis, while rising levels of malnutrition sparked concerns and tensions with U.S. persisted over continued deportation of migrants. Amid surge in COVID-19 cases, Congress 11 May voted to extend state of emergency into June, and President Giammattei declared total nationwide lockdown 15-17 May and 23-24 May. Police reportedly arrested 19,000 people for violating curfew 22 March-14 May. Human Rights Ombudsman 23 May recommended Giammattei remove health minister for mismanagement of COVID-19 funds. Lawmakers 27 May accused health ministry of overpaying advisers, while failing to provide adequate protective equipment to health facilities and workers. Concerns persisted over COVID-19-related malnutrition, particularly in rural areas; World Food Programme 8 May said 921,000 households were at risk of food insecurity due to pandemic, while govt 11 May said 13,000 children were facing acute malnutrition. Amid ongoing social unrest, residents of Quixayá town (south) 2 May blocked roads to denounce high cost of electricity. Tensions with U.S. remained high over continued deportation flights despite COVID-19 pandemic; Guatemalan govt announced several pauses in flights throughout month and accused U.S. of not testing deportees, saying many returnees tested positive upon arrival. Giammattei 21 May said U.S. is not treating Guatemala like an ally; U.S. embassy immediately denied accusation.
Govt continued to take strong security measures to address COVID-19, while deportation flights from U.S. sparked tensions. Govt repeatedly extended COVID-19 state of emergency and related curfew imposed late March; 19 April relaxed internal travel restrictions, introduced 4 April, for all but four departments. Mayors and social leaders 3 April said money transfers to poorest, put in place by govt late-March in context of COVID-19, often end up in hands of wealthier households due to flawed data gathering. Govt 5 April subcontracted delivery of 3mn masks to company run by former colleague of President Giammattei’s wife, raising concerns over corruption; Giammattei 20 April dismissed two health vice-ministers and six other officials for alleged wrongdoing in purchase of medical equipment. Fearing social unrest, authorities as of 2 April reportedly trained 200 policemen to break up protests; police 22 March-17 April reportedly arrested more than 10,000 people for allegedly violating COVID-19 curfew. Deportation flights from U.S. sparked controversy; after health minister 14 April said deportations from U.S. contributed to COVID-19 spread in country, govt 16 April announced pause in flights. Residents fearing contagion in city of Quetzaltenango (west) 15 April staged protest against confinement centre hosting 80 Guatemalans deported from Mexico, throwing stones at them and threatening to set centre on fire. U.S. Sec State Pompeo 13 April said migratory flow from Central America dropped by 76% since May 2019 and announced restoral of some aid – cut in 2019 – to help country further tackle migration.
Govt’s anti-corruption drive continued while Constitutional Court overturned NGO decree that sparked concern over democratic backsliding. Court 2 March sentenced former president of Congress Pedro Muadi to 30 years in prison for heading criminal structure which handed out ghost jobs – salaries collected without work being performed; same day, court found 30 people, mostly former Congressional staff, guilty of using ghost jobs to launder money. President Giammattei 11 March said legal proceedings against companies over fiscal issues was “stupid persecution”, raising concern about his determination to pursue anti-corruption efforts. Constitutional Court (CC) 3 March ruled govt’s Feb decree allowing authorities to shut down NGOs on ground of disturbing public order as unconstitutional citing threats to human rights. Giammattei next day said bill would come into effect regardless of ruling but backed down 6 March after CC reiterated suspension of law and 9 March said he would present amendments in upcoming weeks so decree can enter into force. Amid regional concern over migration, govt 6 March said talks were ongoing with U.S. over implementation of July 2019 Asylum Cooperation Agreement signed by previous govt, which allows U.S. to transfer asylum seekers to Guatemala so they can apply there, including over responsibility for transfer costs. Guatemalan Institute for Migration 6 March said 823 people had arrived through scheme since Nov, with sixteen formally requesting asylum in Guatemala; govt 17 March blocked deportation flights from U.S. to prevent spread of COVID-19, after declaring state of emergency and closing borders for two weeks 16 March, but 19 March resumed reception of flights carrying Guatemalan deportees. Govt late March extended state of emergency and related curfew until 12 April.
New govt of President Giammattei, inaugurated in Jan, continued anti-corruption drive and focused on security issues. In attempt to purge civil service of ghost jobs – salaries collected without work being performed – govt 10 Feb said census to verify extent of phenomenon was ongoing. Security also high on govt agenda; following Jan declaration of State of Prevention – allowing emergency measures aimed at fighting crime – in Mixco and San Juan Sacatepéquez cities, Giammattei announced further State of Prevention in cities of Chimaltenango 5 Feb and in Escuintla 14 Feb; authorities reported 76 people arrested in Chimaltenango by 10 Feb and at least 50 in Escuintla by 20 Feb. Congressional committee 4 Feb began examining bill to designate gangs as terrorist groups, part of Giammattei’s electoral pledge, however Human Rights Ombudsman previous day said it had yet to make sure bill does not violate human rights, while civil society group Diálogos 4 Feb criticised it for being applicable to many social groups. Congress 11 Feb passed controversial bill allowing authorities to sanction NGOs which disturb public order, sparking criticism from civil society, indigenous communities and U.S.; Giammattei 27 Feb signed bill into law. Amid regional concern on migration, govt 5 Feb signed agreement with UN to improve management of migration flows; govt late Jan said several annexes to July 2019 Asylum Cooperation Agreement with U.S. had not been signed, and procedures for receiving asylum seekers still had to be negotiated. Court in U.S. 11 Feb sentenced former presidential candidate Mario Estrada to fifteen years in prison for financing election campaign with drug-trafficking money.
After President-elect Giammattei took office 14 Jan, new govt launched corruption crackdown but civil society continued to raise concerns over alleged democratic backsliding. State prosecutors 15-16 Jan issued arrest warrants against eight senior officials for alleged corruption, prompting police to arrest former congresswoman and former mayor. Outgoing President Morales and VP Cabrera 14 Jan took oaths of office in Central American Parliament – parliamentary institution of regional organisation Central American Integration System – in Guatemala City; protesters and opposition denounced move as attempt to secure immunity from prosecution. In further attempt to delegitimise dismantled anti-corruption body International Commission against Impunity (CICIG), outgoing Congress 10 Jan recommended arrest of CICIG judges and prosecutors, accusing them of wrongdoing. Giammattei 16 Jan presented plan to create Anti-Corruption Presidential Commission to replace CICIG, and launched it 20 Jan. Controversial Law of Acceptance of Charges came into force 16 Jan, potentially reducing sentences by half for those involved in corruption cases who accept their guilt; civil society group Alliance for Reform same day filed plea against law to Constitutional Court on grounds that it promoted impunity; court same day suspended law temporarily. Caravan of migrants who departed from Honduras 15 Jan heading toward U.S. reached Guatemala-Mexico border 19 Jan; migrants clashed with Mexican security forces as Mexico, under pressure from U.S., denied them entry (see Mexico). FM Brolo 22 Jan said govt would maintain controversial Asylum Cooperation Agreement signed with U.S. in July 2019 which allows U.S. to transfer asylum seekers to Guatemala so that they can apply there.
President Morales’ approval of Law of Acceptance of Charges, and Congress’s continued actions to delegitimise dismantled anti-corruption body International Commission against Impunity (CICIG), point to increasing impunity despite pushback from opposition and civil society groups. Truth Commission created in Oct for people who consider themselves to be victims of CICIG concluded its last public hearing 27 Nov, with final report due to be presented 10 Jan to Congress, donor govts of CICIG, UN and Organization of American States. Morales 16 Dec sanctioned controversial reform that reduces sentences up to 50% for those involved in corruption cases who accept their guilt, despite protests against it by civil society groups, who also rejected planned budget cuts for health and education. After President Morales met with U.S. President Trump 17 Dec, the Wall Street Journal reported 20 Dec Guatemala is set to start accepting migrants from Brazil and Mexico, under Asylum Cooperation Agreement signed in July 2019.
Congress took further actions to delegitimise defunct anti-corruption body, the International Commission against Impunity (CICIG), while govt lifted state of emergency imposed to tackle organised drug crime in north east. Truth Commission created in Oct for people who consider themselves to be victims of CICIG 6 Nov requested list from Public Prosecutor with names of all national and foreign personnel who have worked for body; as of 11 Nov, Truth Commission had held 28 hearings with more than 20 pending. Congress 12 Nov adopted amendment to Criminal Code which provides for reduction of sentences up to 50% for those involved in certain criminal cases including corruption, illicit association, money laundering and electoral crimes, if they accept guilt; civil society groups denounced legal change as strengthening impunity and filed appeal at constitutional court. President Morales 4 Nov announced end of state of emergency in 22 municipalities and six departments in north east since early Sept, during which govt seized thousands of kilos of drugs and 75 tons of chemical precursors, and arrested 973 people. Govt temporarily closed Mexican border after two attacks 13 and 17 Nov on customs facilities and officers by alleged smugglers. U.S. 18 Nov issued rule allowing it to send migrants seeking protection at its southern border to Guatemala in compliance with July agreement designating it “safe third country”, and 21 Nov sent first migrant, a Honduran. U.S. 1 Nov announced extension of Temporary Protected Status for Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and other countries until Jan 2021, which provides nationals from these countries temporary permission to live and work in the U.S..
Political tensions continued over work of former anti-corruption body International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), whose mandate ended in Sept, and migration agreement with U.S.. Constitutional Court 7 Oct ordered injunction to immediately halt commission of inquiry set up by Congress late-Sept to probe alleged illegal or arbitrary acts by CICIG on grounds that Congress was usurping functions of Attorney General’s Office; President-elect Giammattei late Sept made statement criticising commission as “political show”. Congress dropped inquiry commission but 14 Oct launched Truth Commission to hold public hearings for people to report alleged CICIG abuses. Giammattei 3 Oct reiterated concern over lack of information on “Safe Third Country” agreement with U.S. which allows U.S. to transfer asylum cases to Guatemala while their cases are reviewed, and did not rule out repealing it when he takes office in Jan. U.S. 15 Oct warned govt must maintain agreement to benefit from proposed regional development plans, next day resumed some aid, focused on law enforcement and security. President Morales 2 Oct extended state of emergency in 22 municipalities, imposed in Sept following killing of three soldiers; Peasant Development Committee 17 Oct organised several protests across country rejecting extension.
Political tensions continued over end of anti-corruption body and migration agreement with U.S.. UN-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG)’s mandate ended 3 Sept, amid concern among observers over impact on anti-corruption efforts; President-elect Giammattei gave no further details of his planned new anti-corruption body, due to start operations Jan 2020. Congress 24 Sept created commission to investigate possible irregularities in CICIG’s work. Constitutional Court 10 Sept revoked its July ruling that declared Guatemala could not become “Safe Third Country” following July agreement with U.S., which foresees that migrants who file asylum requests in U.S. can be transferred to Guatemala while their cases are being reviewed. Earlier, Giammattei 5 Sept told U.S. Sec State Pompeo during visit to Washington DC that he disagrees with pact, and requested that his cabinet observes talks between outgoing govt of President Morales and U.S.; Giammattei 8 Sept said Morales prevented him from observing talks, and warned that he would not implement agreement if cut out of process. Morales 4 Sept decreed 30-day state of emergency in 22 municipalities in north east after three soldiers died in ambush by drug traffickers near border with Belize. Interior Minister Degenhart 18 Sept reported country now officially cocaine-producing after police and U.S. anti-narcotic specialists found coca plantations and laboratories in east, in areas close to Livingston and El Estor.
Alejandro Giammattei won second round of presidential election. In run-off vote 11 Aug, Giammattei of Vamos party won 58% of vote, beating 42% for Sandra Torres of Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza (UNE), turnout 42%; Giammattei will assume office Jan 2020. Giammattei 11 Aug reiterated he will not renew International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) whose mandate ends 3 Sept, instead creating new anti-corruption commission. Attorney General 13 Aug announced creation of 60-person technical unit to assist new anti-corruption body “Special Attorney against Impunity”, with CICIG spokesman raising concerns that unit does not contain any CICIG members. Following July U.S.-Guatemala “Safe Third Country” agreement requiring migrants who pass through country to first seek asylum there instead of U.S., Constitutional Court (CC) received official copy of accord from govt 9 Aug, in order for CC to make final decision on previous provisional ruling which blocked signing of agreement without congressional approval; Giammattei 13 Aug stated country had neither resources nor security to act as safe third country and reaffirmed deal must have U.S. and Guatemalan congressional approval. Minister of Interior Enrique Degenhart 22 Aug signed security cooperation agreement with U.S. on sharing biometric information of foreigners in or passing through Guatemala.
Fallout from June presidential and legislative elections continued amid uncertainty over future of International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) 1 July confirmed two most successful candidates from presidential vote – Sandra Torres of Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza (UNE) and Alejandro Giammattei of political party Vamos – would contest run-off 11 Aug; Congress 11 July confirmed out of 160 seats in congress UNE won 52 and Vamos 17. Amid criticism from public prosecutors that TSE rushed results confirmation and ignored irregularities, TSE 17 July announced official end to voting recount, ruling out allegations of electoral fraud. Ahead of 3 Sept end of CICIG’s mandate, Human Rights Prosecutor Jordán Rodas 15 July asked Constitutional Court (CC) to permanently uphold Jan ruling which blocked govt from terminating CICIG’s mandate with immediate effect; report from NGO Amnesty International 9 July warned govt’s attacks on CICIG could wipe out progress in strengthening judicial system. Govt and U.S. 26 July signed “Safe Third Country” protocol which requires Central American migrants who pass through Guatemala to first seek asylum there, rather than in U.S. Earlier in month, President Morales 23 July filed appeal against CC 14 July ruling that prevented govt from entering into such an agreement without Congressional approval.
Presidential and legislative elections held mid-June marred by fraud allegations amid reports of death threats on electoral officials prior to elections. In first round of presidential vote 16 June, Sandra Torres, candidate for Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza (UNE), won 25.54% of vote, Alejandro Giammattei of Vamos party won 13.95%; both set for second round run-off 11 August. Organization of American States initial assessment of election 18 June found no evidence of fraud but highlighted pre-election violence. However, Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) 20 June announced recount following fraud allegations. Recount began 26 June but suspended same day after Public Prosecutor raided TSE offices as part of investigation into possible irregularities in results. Recount restarted 27 June. In lead up to election TSE had identified 91 municipalities posing high risk of political violence; attorney general 12 June confirmed electoral crimes prosecutor fled country after receiving death threats. On election day, TSE reported incidents in at least four departments including suspension of voting in San Jorge, Zacapa, department after electoral authorities received death threats. Regional focus on migration continued; govt 13 June began talks in Guatemala City with U.S. officials, reportedly on designating Guatemala “safe third country”, which would require Central American migrants to seek asylum in Guatemala, rather than continuing north to U.S. Despite U.S. claims agreement was close, govt 26 June said such agreement was not under discussion.
Political manoeuvring and hostilities continued ahead of 16 June presidential election with cancellation of numerous candidacies, amid fears of political violence and attacks on candidates. In most prominent series of rulings widely believed to be politically motivated, constitutional court (CC) 15 May rejected Movimiento Semilla party’s appeal to allow former attorney general and anti-corruption figure Thelma Aldana to stand as its candidate in presidential elections, following contested legal ruling revoking her candidacy in April. Aldana late April revealed U.S. intelligence had informed her of plot to assassinate her, raising concerns over potential political violence around election. CC 17 May provisionally suspended court ruling that rejected prosecutors’ request to lift immunity of presidential candidate for Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza (UNE) party Sandra Torres, who leads pre-election polls, over allegations of illicit electoral financing in 2015; however Torres allowed to continue campaigning until CC reaches definitive resolution, raising concerns over alleged institutional effort to block challenges against her. Interior Ministry 6 May revealed several mayoral and federal candidates requested police protection after receiving death threats.
Political tensions and manoeuvring intensified ahead of June general elections, with Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) revoking presidential candidacy of former attorney general and candidate for Movimiento Semilla party Thelma Aldana over investigations into alleged fraud and cronyism, widely believed to be politically motivated. Judge from Femicide Tribunal forbade prosecutors from approaching second presidential contender Sandra Torres, candidate of Unidad Nacional de La Esperanza (UNE), who is under investigation for illicit electoral financing in 2015, despite Constitutional Court 1 April ruling that her immunity should be lifted – prompting speculation over institutional effort to block challenges against her. International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) continued to face political hostility despite high public approval; Sec Gen of Organization of American States Luis Almagro 8 April met Torres and discussed need for transparent elections with TSE working without interference from bodies such as CICIG, drawing criticism from CICIG chief Iván Velásquez.
Political tensions continued over International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), particularly its role in corruption case involving family of President Morales, against whom CICIG has also been preparing possible charges over illicit electoral financing. Attorney general’s office 6 March appealed to Constitutional Court to overturn Appeal Court’s Feb ruling that removed CICIG as plaintiff in corruption case of Morales’ brother and son, amid govt’s attempts to ensure CICIG plays no further parts in national affairs. Inter-American Court of Human Rights 12 March publicly ordered govt to abandon controversial amnesty bill which would pardon crimes committed during 1960-1996 civil war, which also drew heavy criticism from other domestic and international actors. Group of lawmakers 13 March walked out during third and final reading of bill, forcing its suspension. Govt 12 March confirmed it had dismissed security head overseeing security for at-risk judges following concerns over his appointment in Jan and request from International Commission of Jurists. Regional focus on migration continued with Northern Triangle and U.S. govts 27 March signing agreement to deter international crime and curb irregular migration; however U.S. State Department 30 March announced end of aid to region, day after President Trump claimed Northern Triangle countries had “set up” migrant caravans.
Tensions remained high between govt and International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG, which has been preparing case and possible charges against President Morales and others for illicit electoral financing) following Morales’ attempted cancellation of CICIG’s mandate in Jan. Head of State Prosecutor’s office 16 Feb reiterated govt does not recognise CICIG as a valid actor in national affairs, after CICIG representatives were present at initial hearing 13 Feb in case of former prosecutor accused of obstruction of justice. Sweden 17 Feb recalled ambassador for consultations citing political situation and state of bilateral relations; in May 2018 govt had claimed ambassador had interfered in domestic politics. Political violence increased with attacks on candidates in lead up to June presidential elections, including unknown assailants 11 Feb shooting dead Marvin Giovanni Peña, Fuerza party’s mayoral candidate for Tiquisate, Escuintla department (south); Fuerza presidential candidate Mauricio Radford warned of chronic absence of authority in municipalities such as Dolores y Las Cruces, El Petén department (north). Govt late-Jan appointed Morales ally to oversee security of at-risk judges, leading to concerns Morales may use provision of security to pressure judges. In attempts to stem flow of Central American migrants northward, Morales and foreign and economy ministers 15 Feb met delegation of U.S. senators and congressmen to review Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle plan to address structural problems fuelling irregular migration.
Political turmoil worsened as govt intensified attacks on International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG, which has been preparing case and possible charges against President Morales and others for illicit electoral financing) and against Constitutional Court (CC), which has been defending CICIG. After CC early Jan intervened to release CICIG official detained at airport on entering country, Morales 7 Jan announced end of agreement with UN on CICIG, giving representatives 24 hours to leave country. Lawyers and civil society filed multiple appeals with CC, which 8 Jan ruled against govt’s decision. CICIG chief Iván Velásquez – previously a target of govt anger for his work – 14 Jan stated he would resign if CICIG was allowed to function until planned end of its mandate in Sept. Foreign ministry 16 Jan defied CC ruling and withdrew diplomatic immunity and privileges from all CICIG staff, while CICIG was excluded from tribunal hearing case against Morales’ relatives 18 Jan. Thousands of protesters marched in Guatemala City 12 and 14 Jan in support of CICIG. Govt moves against CICIG caused international outcry: UN Sec-Gen Guterres rejected Morales’ 7 Jan decision, while regional and international partners and UN human rights office called on govt to respect democratic institutions and reverse decision. Govt also targeted CC, with Supreme Court of Justice 9 Jan beginning proceedings against three CC judges; Congress 17 Jan created committee to study whether to lift immunity of CC judges. Seven people were injured in bomb explosion in bus in Guatemala City 21 Jan; investigations pointed to gang extortion racket, for which suspected attacker is being tried.
Govt continued campaign against International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), fuelling political tensions. Foreign Ministry 17 Dec revoked visas and waived diplomatic immunity for eleven CICIG investigators working on corruption cases including those against President Morales for illicit electoral financing; govt gave ten investigators 72 hours to leave country; civil society groups responded demanding resignation of FM Jovel, and Constitutional Court 21 Dec ruled ministry should issue visas by 24 Dec. Ministry 24 Dec filed appeal, clarifying reasons behind its defiance of court’s ruling; CICIG 31 Dec announced govt had renewed visas for the investigators. CICIG chiefIván Velásquez 7 Dec accused political parties of sharing out posts in judicial system, 12 Dec expressed willingness to return to Guatemala in Jan. CICIG and attorney general continued anti-corruption efforts including several arrests on charges of illicit electoral financing 13 Dec. Thousands of Guatemalans continued journeying through Central America and Mexico to reach U.S. despite dangers along route; group of masked men 8 Dec attacked 45 Guatemalan migrants in Veracruz, Mexico, killing one,while two Guatemalan children died in U.S. Border Patrol custody 8 and 25 Dec, causing public outcry. U.S. President Trump 28 Dec threatened to cut “all aid” to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras unless they do more to stop migration.
Govt continued campaign against International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), which has been preparing case and possible charges against President Morales and others for illicit electoral financing. VP Jafeth Cabrera 20 Nov said govt will resist external pressure to renew CICIG mandate. Tensions increased between govt and Constitutional Court (CC, which ruled against govt’s decision not to grant CICIG head re-entry as unconstitutional) with some 50 members of Congress drafting bill to dissolve court via popular referendum, although unlikely to gain majority support for the measure. CICIG and attorney general late Oct detained former interior minister and four top former police officers on charges of operating extrajudicial executions 2004-2007; deputy interior minister, also reportedly implicated in case, resigned and went into hiding 29 Oct. Congress 27 Nov approved 2019 budget cutting funds to Human Rights Ombudsman office; next day approved series of measures that some believe will favour impunity. Morales 5 Nov met with Honduran President Hernández to address “migrant caravan” and urged Mexico, U.S. and El Salvadoran authorities to investigate its origins and identify those responsible.